A Sweet Take on Stewardship

November 16, 2018
Thomas Nicholas
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

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A Sweet Take on Stewardship
Bear Mountain Trail Steward Thomas giving candy to hikers who remove litter from the trails. Photo by Thomas Nicholas.

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Remember when you were first inspired to protect or help the environment?

Was it from reading a book or from interacting with a fellow trail lover? Since 2013, the Trail Conference has been fielding Trail Stewards at popular destinations throughout the region to cultivate these one-on-one connections in nature.

If you’ve explored the Appalachian Trail at Bear Mountain on weekends or holidays, chances are you may have chatted with our Trail Stewards. On duty from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, the Stewards familiarize Bear Mountain visitors to the concepts of safe and responsible hiking and front-country wilderness stewardship.

Serving at Bear Mountain since 2017, Head Steward Thomas Nicholas noticed a recurring theme while on duty. “The biggest thing hikers and park staff complained about was all the trash along the Trail,” he says. “Every time I went up the Trail I did my best to grab as much trash as I could, but I could only do so much.”  But if everyone took that responsibility upon themselves, he thought, the trash problem might be solved.

Thomas dreamed up a sweet way to engage visitors to care for their public lands. “I’ve always found the best way to encourage people to do anything is with candy,” he says. “So, for every person who brings trash down the trail or takes a picture of themselves throwing it out, I give them a piece.”

Thomas says the results have been surprising. As soon as he mentions candy, visitors’ eyes light up and they are suddenly motivated to get involved. It’s a fun, easy way to encourage people to learn and use Leave No Trace principles. Thomas is hopeful that this single reward will help people continue to pick up trash wherever they may explore and think twice before leaving it behind.

When used responsibly, trails protect both the people who use them and the environment that surrounds them—but without education, trail lands are subject to mistreatment and misuse. Trail Conference Stewards deliver much-needed public services on the trail that would otherwise be unavailable to visitors. Their presence has enabled a dramatic decrease in lost hikers at Breakneck Ridge, less trash along the Appalachian Trail at Bear Mountain, and visible evidence of habitat restoration in the Catskills. Find out more at nynjtc.org/stewards.

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